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Spurs match reports

Aston Villa 0-4 Spurs: Three Tottenham Talking Points

1. The First Three Goals

A casual observer might reasonably expect the opening lines here to be on Goal 1, principally in the interests of chronology; but also to purr a goodish deal about Sonny’s ping, via, perhaps, a carefree chortle about the geographic wildness of Kane’s initial effort.

Alternatively, the same observer would presumably understand if I opened with Goal 2, on account of its dashed handy timing, arriving as it did at the opportune moment to quell a Villa beast still violent and snorting from its first half excursions; as well as a complimentary word or two on the upper-body dimensions of Kane that had Villa defenders bouncing off him; and the dead-eyed finish by Kulusevski, delivered like Midas in the Hollywood days when the going was still good for him.

Or indeed passers-by might anticipate me starting with Goal 3, dwelling in particular upon the surreptitious glance Kane gave, before receiving ball to his dome and chivvying it along with just the appropriate amount of pace and direction, with credits in the small print to Romero for the sort of pass that is well above the pay-grade of the average centre-back, and Sonny for taking a leaf out of the Kulusevski book of making potentially tricky finishes look no bother at all.

2. The Fourth Goal

But I’ll kick things off instead with Goal 4, mainly because it was one of those rare beasts whose every constituent element was a thing of such beauty that by the time its finale rolled around you were practically begging for someone to do the decent thing and stick the ball in the net.  

Astonishingly, the opening line was belted out by Emerson Royal, who had spent the entirety of the first half accommodating his opponents, either by casually letting them drift past him without objection or giving the ball straight to them whenever he happened upon it. I was therefore as taken aback as the next man to see him contribute so proficiently to Goal 4.  

His role in the project began with a rare outbreak of good sense, in getting first to the ball down by his own corner flag and then playing a one-two with Kulusevski, before shovelling on to Hojbjerg and God-speeding him along. This had the dual benefits of emerging from the aforementioned corner – something of a cul-de-sac at the time – and transferring our collective weight from back-foot to front.

Kulusevski for his part threw in a ballerina’s pirouette that had not one but two Villa sorts grasping at thin air and needing a brief sit-down to clear their heads. Fast-forward along some solid keep-it-simpling from Hojbjerg and Kane, and the ball was out with Sonny on the right, who, faced with ever-decreasing options, rolled the ball through the legs of the latest Villa defender queueing up for a spot of ignominy.

At this point Kulusevski took up the reigns again, but simply to report this is a bit like saying “Kong took on Godzilla”, a statement which might accurately capture the identity of the protagonists but actually omits much of the eye-catching nature of the moment. For Kulusevski, for the benefit of latecomers, was the bod who helped Emerson get the ball rolling five seconds earlier down by his own corner flag – and yet here he was, sprinting ahead of Sonny as the most advanced man in the attack, in what could be considered an absolute triumph for the fitness staff.

Kulusevski then took the opportunity to leave on his rear yet another embarrassed defender, the air by this time becoming thick with them, before looking up to pick his pass. And it was at this point that, as mentioned above, one dropped to one’s knees and positively pleaded with someone of Hotspur persuasion to deliver a fitting finale.

As such it was good work on the part of the creative souls who script such things that Son should pop up to complete his hat-trick, en route repeating his earlier gag involving the inside of the post, for added aesthetic value.

3. Lloris

It should not be overlooked that such perfectly-choreographed happy endings would have been a lot less rampant if a few first half moments had fluttered to earth only slightly differently.

Villa having established straight off the bat that the contest was to be undertaken using bar-room brawl rules, augmented their output in more palatable fashion by the deployment of Coutinho in an array of pockets seemingly beyond the remit of any our heroes. The net result was a half composed entirely of a procession of Villa chances, coming so thick and fast that at times it appeared that several were happening simultaneously.

No doubt there are some vastly knowledgeable eggs out there who could take one look at that first half and diagnose precisely the causes of our difficulties. Here at AANP Towers however, we simply watched in horror, occasionally damning the lineage of all those involved, as possession was repeatedly lobbed back to Villa to encourage them to try again.

Naturally we could only peddle such rot for so long without someone making a useful intervention, so it was as well that Monsieur Lloris was keeping up with current affairs.

Now I don’t want to stretch things by suggesting that this one of those days on which he leapt around doing the impossible, extending the appropriate paw to angles that defied physics or faster than the naked eye could detect, or any other such eye-popping stuff. Lloris had a good game, but not one of those that has one querying whether some deity has taken possession of his frame.

There certainly were some decent interruptions on his part, notably the one from the young nib Ramsey, which seemed to require that our man extended his mitts upwards with all the express pace of someone rising towards the heavens after sitting on an upturned drawing pin.

By and large, however, Lloris occupied his time making saves the like of which one would expect from a fellow who has collected a World Cup doing such things. Villa sorts thumped the ball well within his orbit; he extended his frame and thumped the ball off in another direction. Why goalkeepers these days scorn the act of catching shots is rather beyond me, but the point is that he made a string of decent saves without which we’d have been in some bother.

He also plucked a couple of crosses from the heavens, which might not sound much but spared us some pretty awkward moments in toe-poke territory. In general, Lloris is a fellow who eyes with suspicion any plot of land more than two or three yards from his own goal line, and while this can, on occasion, prove quite the shortcoming, yesterday it turned out to be rather a handy quirk, as various of the crosses requiring attention seemed to have a flight path of near enough the goal-line.

And between Lloris’ first half necessaries, and the flawless whirring of our attacking cogs, this, like last week against Newcastle, evolved from something of a first-half struggle into an absolute second half canter. What with Woolwich’s comical implosions and our goal difference going through the roof, the whole business has become rather good fun again.

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Spurs match reports

Spurs 2-1 Aston Villa: Five Tottenham Talking Points

1. Formation

Even before kick-off the teamsheet was a pretty welcome sight for the sore AANP eyes. One does not wish ill upon one’s fellow man of course, but nevertheless it was with some relief that I noted that Dele had been quietly escorted from the starting line-up, and the apparatus instead arranged for a 4-2-3-1.

The use of 4-2-3-1 in midweek had, as remarked on these very pages at the time, given our lot far better shape and organisation – but, as also noted at the time, only so much could be read into its deployment against a team of bobbish but pretty limited part-timers. Seeing the system put to use today against a Villa team that has steadily improved in recent years felt like a far greater test of its efficacy, so it was pretty pleasing to report that while hardly the perfect performance this was nevertheless a massive improvement on recent weeks. A low bar admittedly, and they’d have been hard pressed to be any worse, but still – the set-up was better.

Put bluntly, within the 4-2-3-1 everyone seemed at least to know what their roles were. This was in pretty crucial contrast to the 4-3-3 trotted out in recent weeks, when the midfield 3 in particular had seemed oddly lost, just wandering about the pitch with the air of chappies new to the place and without a compass between them.

Today, at least, one got the impression that all in attendance had been briefed on the general strategy – again, a vast improvement on last weekend, when one rather suspected that that all concerned had been granted licence to do whatever they pleased, wherever they pleased. Today, the agenda seemed a bit clearer. Two lads sitting in front of the back-four; further north, Ndombele given the freedom of N17 (and permission to ignore some of the game’s more onerous, defensive duties); the full-backs encouraged to amble up the pitch and sniff around when the urge took them; and Kane under instruction to temper his urges to drop deep.

2. The Midfield Three

That said, one can unwrap the greatest formation in history and it would count for nothing if those individuals tasked with effecting it simply shrug their shoulders and fade into obscurity. Mercifully, today all eleven (plus subs) had the dignity to engage the grey matter and apply themselves to the task at hand.

In midfield, Skipp was restored and wasted little time demonstrating his many virtues. In his love for a full-blooded midfield challenge this young specimen shares much in common with an AANP hero of yesteryear, Paul Ince, and it was rather frustrating to note that, also in common with Ince, he seems to be developing the knack of picking up yellow cards simply for being a player of tough-tackling ilk, rather than for actually committing any particular heinous crimes. While we may just have to purse the lips and accept that Skippy will pick up yellows more often than not, this week’s was particularly harsh, given that a) he won the ball cleanly enough, and b) even if he hadn’t won the ball, there was little about the challenge or its position on the pitch to merit a caution.

It was to his credit that despite being under such observation for over half the match his energy in that role of sentry-keeper was undiminished. Indeed, when things did begin to creak a tad in the second half, Skippy’s were the limbs, on more than one occasion, that extended to goal-saving effect inside our own area.

Alongside him, Hojbjerg seemed to have a little more direction than in recent weeks. While his starting berth tended to be deep, alongside Skipp, he seemed happy enough to trot forward if circumstances warranted, most notably of course, for his goal.

And the main beneficiary of all this elbow grease was Monsieur Ndombele, who treated us to a pretty Ndombele sort of performance – occasional flashes of pretty dizzying genius; several attempted passes not more than a whisker or three from scything open the Villa defence; and a lot of his time on the pitch seemingly spent in gulping in oxygen and trying to keep up with play. And this was fine by me to be honest, as the system is pretty much created specifically for him to treat us to flashes of p.d.g. and passes that scythe. With Skipp and Hojbjerg in attendance Ndombele can essentially get away with being something of a luxury, with little in the way of defensive duties.

What matters is that he produces enough flashes of creative goodness to trouble the opposition, and this he just about did. In the first half in particular he barged his way onto the front of the stage fairly often, linking merrily enough with Lucas and Sonny. No game-changing moments today, and he faded a little in the second half, but it seems reasonable to say he played his part, and I imagine the Number 10 role is his for the foreseeable.

And there is some competition in that respect. Lo Celso was given fifteen minutes in the role at the end of proceedings, and produced a couple of near misses, albeit without exactly pulling strings; and one suspects that Lucas, Dele and even the fifth Beatle might equally be deployed in the role, within this particular formation.

3. Emerson Royal

Ndombele was not the only soul to benefit from the presence of the Skipp-Hojbjerg axis in front of the back-four, as E. Royal Esq. was another who needed little encouragement to toddle forward and see what delights awaited.

It would be stretching things to say he’s Beckham-esque in his crossing, but Royal certainly made himself useful in supplementing our attacks and offering a wide option, showing all the willing of young Tanganga in previous weeks but with perhaps a little more polish and nous in his doings.

None of which is to suggest that he neglected his defensive duties, far from it. Indeed, I rather enjoy the commitment he shows in racing into battle with his opposing left-sided attacker, seemingly determined that if there is a fifty-fifty on his particular patch of turf he will lick his lips and charge straight in. One admires the attitude.

4. Romero

In recent weeks we have been treated to increased sightings of our newest centre-back, and I suspect AANP is not alone in upturning the thumb in approval at the young bean’s execution of duties.

Romero is, by and large, a calming sort of presence at the back. There is a caveat to this – which was in full view today – to which I shall return anon, but in carrying out the business of winning aerial battles and positioning himself just so, he seems to do most of those things one would hope for from a competent centre-back. Not the worst in possession of the thing either, which is always a bonus.

Moreover, given that Villa could not go thirty seconds without hurling a long throw into our box, and also had a whole sackful of corners to lob in similarly, I was pretty impressed at how Romero – and indeed all in lilywhite – coped with the barrage, this sort of thing having been something of a weakness in the THFC constitution to date this season.

The elephant in the room is of course his rather reckless and ill-timed lunge, immediately preceded by a decision to come haring out of position, and swiftly followed by both concession of a goal and a yellow card for his troubles. I feel that in our recent history we have had rather enough centre-backs who can produce that ‘Serene For Most Of The Game But Liable to Magic A Calamity From Nowhere’ routine, so while it would be fun for Messrs Dier and Sanchez to have another with whom to share stories and slap backs, I do hope that today’s moment of madness was an exception rather than a norm.

5. Sonny

A job well done from just about everyone in lilywhite then, but it seems reasonable to suggest that Sonny should take home whatever gongs are on offer for doing the most important bits and bobs.

In the second half in particular, with Villa obligingly pushing up to halfway, and Reguilon being sufficiently quick of thought to pop the ball into the resultant wide open spaces, Sonny’s pace was a threat and bore suitable rewards. The winning goal emanated from his size nines, and we really ought to have had one or two more from this route.

Sonny can also take his fair share of applause for one of the more entertaining three-minute segments seen in N17 in recent history, when he, Lo Celso and Hojbjerg between them drove the surrounding Villa players to the brink of breakdown by successfully keeping the ball in the corner. This is a tactic of which AANP has never been a particular fan, primarily because it rarely seems to work, the ball typically being surrendered within about five seconds and a race ensuing as the opposition counters.

Today, however, our lot played the situation to perfection, and to pretty hilarious effect. The highlight of the routine was arguably delivered by Sonny himself, in wriggling free from all manner of flailing limbs near the corner flag, buzzing into the area, creating room for a shot – and then u-turning and buzzing back out towards the corner flag again, irate Villa players flailing in his wake. A comical appendix to what was a much-improved display, and Our Glorious Leader can breathe a little easier for a couple of weeks.

Tweets and whatnot

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Spurs match reports

Villa 2-3 Spurs: Four Tottenham Talking Points

1. Shaky Defence and Avoidable Opening Goal

Villa started like a runaway train, which was a reasonable enough stance for them to adopt, so no complaints there, but what did irk was the unnecessarily obliging fashion in which we let them rampage about the place.

The legend surrounding our newest Glorious Leader is that he is the sort of bean who likes nothing better than sitting down with a troupe and instilling the fundamentals of defending deep within their very souls. And Jose having been treated to a good ten days or so to do exactly that, my hopes of seeing some green shoots of defensive stability were, if not exactly high, at least registering on the scale.

However, the evidence paraded was pretty emphatically to the contrary, right from kick-off. In fact, we managed to begin the game looking for all the world like a team hanging on for dear life in the dying embers, which made the mind swim a bit.

Evidently swimming minds was a bit of a theme, because our back four spent those opening exchanges stumbling around as if punch drunk. The fault did not lie entirely at their door, as little was offered by our midfield by way of protection from their runners or wing-backs, but in general the phrase “Knife through butter” was the one that sprung to mind as Villa repeatedly cantered through.

Their opener neatly summed up the state of things at the back. He has generally escaped censure, but I thought Ben Davies could have done more than merely waggle a leg in the first place, allowing the Newcastle lad to gather a head of steam down their right.

The cross that followed admittedly caught a deflection that made it dip in the flight, but I still jabbed an accusatory finger at Monsieur Lloris, for taking one meaningful step towards the ball – as if to come out all guns blazing to gather it and uproot any other object in his path – and then deciding that the quiet life was for him.

And Toby similarly might have averted catastrophe if he had approached the matter with a decisive air and clouted the ball to kingdom come, but alas, between the ball’s dipping flight and Lloris’ quiet life there appeared to be too many variables for the chap to compute, and one could almost see the steam rise from his frazzled circuits as he plopped the ball into his own net.

2. The Front Four And Chances Made

Mercifully, matters improved steadily thereafter. There was still a flimsiness about our defence (although I thought Sanchez went about earning his weekly envelop with admirable composure and solidity), but further north we gradually found our bearings.

Oddly enough, we actually benefited from Villa’s bright opening, as they seemed emboldened to throw men forward, which set things up nicely for our counter-attack. A pleasing irony.

The interplay of Son, Lucas, Dele and Bergwijn acted as a pretty welcome restorative, after the shambles we had sprayed in all directions when in retreat. It appeared that all four members of the quartet were well rehearsed in their dinky passes and searing runs, and the chances duly flowed.

In fact, I cannot remember many occasions in recent times on which the chances have flowed quite so liberally. Playing a lesser light of the Premier League undoubtedly chivvies these things along, but nevertheless. It seemed that every couple of minutes one of our front four were haring into the penalty area.

The effect was admittedly spoilt by the inability of the aforementioned front four to applying the finishing touch, but they undoubtedly generated goodwill in the construction of each chance, and the mood at AANP Towers was accordingly positive. The goals will come”, whispered the voice in my head, and it had a point, for the important thing seemed to be to continue to create chances, rather than worrying too much about the fact that they every one of them seemed to be pinged straight down the gullet of the Villa ‘keeper.

Aside from the general, warm fuzziness provided by seeing our lot repeatedly carve out opportunities, perhaps the most pleasing aspect was the fact that rather than run out of ideas and pass sideways, with half-hearted shrugs as if to say “Out of ideas over here, guv,” when in possession our lot began dabbling in neat, short, diagonal passes forward, complemented by intelligent running ahead of them. Just five- and ten-yard stuff, but it was between the lines, visibly befuddled Villa and generally created a platform for one or other of our mob to have a crack.

Where previously hammering away at teams has much about it of simply banging one’s head against a wall, today, rather than scuttle up cul-de-sacs, our forwards regularly picked out sensible, short, forward passes that moved matters swiftly on. Admittedly none of the three goals were directly due to such devilry, but one could plausibly argue that the cumulative effect of our pressure had some bearing.

3. Dele Alli’s Swagger

He may have spurned chance after chance after chance, but I shall assume that when Dele Alli lights up his meditative evening pipe he will look back on his day with some satisfaction.

Stationed, in the first half at least, high up the pitch behind the main striker, he timed his forward bursts well to provide options to those around him, which we would all do well to bear in mind next time heated dispute breaks out over the whereabouts of his most effective position.

This in itself was pretty stirring stuff, and appreciative nods were therefore already the order of the day. However, what really had me nudging those nearby and murmuring that the chap looks to have returned to former glories was the general swagger with which he peddled his wares.

Not that I go in for this sort of thing in my daily rounds, but seeing him breeze around the pitch with a certain arrogance, wanting to be at the hub of things and rolling out the occasional flick and trick, made for an encouraging sight.

4. Another Breezy Showing From Bergwijn

The boy Bergwijn was another who had evidently taken it up himself pre-game to endear himself to AANP, and I am happy to report that the delivery was every bit as effective as the intent.

Where Son, Lucas and Dele seemed keen to jink inside and sniff around in central areas, as if keen to be up-to-date on all current affairs in the vicinity, Bergwijn tended to keep to himself a little more, generally stationing himself within shouting distance of the left-hand touchline and letting the others take care of things more centrally.

Which is not to say he shirks his responsibilities; far from it. Once the ball approached his sphere of influence – and in fact, pleasingly, even when it did not – he sparked into life and went tearing up the left flank.

His pace causes problems, he is not shy about taking a shot and, with the enthusiasm one would expect of a new cadet eager to please, he seems happy enough to toddle back and muck in with the less glamorous stuff. “Quietly effective” just about sums it up. In common with his attacking chums he spurned a handful of presentable chances, but he made himself a nuisance throughout, and appears to be a handy additional string to the bow.

Calling all Spurs fans – if you like to contribute to my latest book on Tottenham fans’ favourite players, then leave a comment below, or drop me a line at aanp1999@gmail.com, or tweet @aanp_spurs

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Spurs 3-1 Villa: Six Tottenham Talking Points

1. Old Habits

As the minutes worryingly ticked by yesterday, the phrase that sprung to mind was the old French gag, “plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose”, which as I understand essentially translates as “It may be a new season, new stadium and we even have new signings dash it, but this nonsense on the pitch is the same as before, what?”

For this was a script that had been rolled out seven or eight times last season, no doubt about it. Oodles of possession, lack of final-third spark, a well-drilled defensive unit from the opposition and concession of a goal faintly ridiculous in its simplicity – all returned like old friends, picking up where they’d left off.

Mercifully, another trait that can be added to the list is the fact that our heroes have developed quite the knack for turning around a deficit pretty late in the day. Whereas once to be trailing as the clock ticked to 80 or so meant a pretty prolonged agony followed by a grumpy mooch home, now players and fans alike exchange knowing nods as if to say “This is comeback territory.”

So not quite the serene start one might have envisaged, but glass-half-full sorts might point out that we’ll be all the better for having navigated the odd bump in the road, and the important thing was probably not to have fallen 3 points behind the usual suspects before the first weekend of the season is out.

2. My Best Mate Jan

Starting at the start, I don’t mind admitting there was a pretty dubious eyebrow raised when Our Glorious Leader’s latest crazy notion was revealed to be the omission from the squad altogether of AANP’s best mate, Jan Vertonghen.

The official party line, that it’s impossible to pick everyone at once, might, I suppose, have an inkling of truth to it – but the whole turn of events leaves one with a rather hollow feeling in the stomach. Given the way of things in recent years, the mind inevitably wanders back to those fallings-out of senior players with Poch, the likes of Toby and Danny Rose, who having had the temerity to blab disapprovingly of life at the Lane were shoved off to the naughty step for the best part of six months and left to think about what they’d done.

With the European transfer window still alive and kicking, and only one year left on Vertonghen’s contract, I don’t mind admitting that I fear the worst.

It’s all quite the surprise, mind. The chap’s own interviews had generally suggested he was as happy as a pig in its own muck, and the rumours emanating from the camp had indicated that he and Kane, along with Lloris, were members of a well-trusted core of senior bods. Who knows where this is going?

3. First Half Struggles – Winks, Lamela etc

As for the game itself, I was actually pretty pleased with the initial joustings. Lucas Moura set a good tone straight from kick-off by dispossessing some poor sap and blasting one goalwards, albeit immediately afterwards undoing the good work by missing a pretty straightforward header, but in general the early omens were promising enough. Passes were fairly slick and there was a good energy amongst the players.

Alas it quickly went squiffy. Traffic through the centre became pretty congested.
While Winks was neat and energetic and efficient, his passing tends to keep possession rather than rip the spine out of the opposition à la Modric or an on-song Eriksen. Winks scavenged, and darted, and did nothing wrong, but ultimately tended to feed the man six yards away, or at best feed the full-backs out wide.

Lamela did what Lamela does, and dwelt on the ball far too long before releasing it, generally giving the air of a man making a bit of a mess of a his big opportunity (albeit he redeemed himself at the death by winning back possession for our crucial second).

Danny Rose had a fair amount of joy on the left, causing some gratifying moments of alarm in the Villa box every time he curled in a cross, and although his attacking play was as effective as his defending was careless, he looked arguably our most threatening option. Not that there was much competition on that front.

4. Kyle Walker-Peter’s: Not One of Nature’s Crossers

Given the threat posed by Rose’s crossing from the left, I found quickly found myself yearning for a Trippier, or Aurier on the right, which I suppose is an indication of just how frustrating things were becoming.

For young Kyle Walker-Peters had plenty of possession out on the right in the first half, and did nothing particularly wrong – but given the number of times he received the thing, I could not help lamenting that it would not have killed the chap to swing in a cross or two.

Instead he dithered, and fretted, and scurried, and generally ended up trying to take on his man –to his credit, usually winning a corner – or laid the ball back to a handily-placed chum. Nothing wrong with that, as it retained possession, but countless opportunities were missed to swing in an early cross and let bedlam ensue. You can lay a sizeable wager on any of Walker, Trippier or Aurier having tried as much.

Various Spurs-supporting chums opined at half-time that KWP was arguably the pick of our mob; I firmly marked him down in the Debit rather than Credit column. Considering how much of our play went through him in the first 45, and the threat posed by Rose’s crossing on the other flank, I thought he was repeatedly missing a fairly obvious trick. In fact, by half-time I was dishing a strong selection of curses in his direction.

Whether by accident or design, the plug was pulled on KWP as an attacking force (I use the term loosely) in the second half. He sat deeper and focused on mopping up defensively – a job he did quite adequately, to his credit – and more senior sorts like Lucas and Sissoko took on the mantle of patrolling the right flank. I suppose this is what life after Trippier wil look like, so we had all better get used to it, but it seems a limitation to KWP’s game.

5. Early Ndombele Observations

An odd sort of start from our much-heralded newbie. In the first half one rather felt for the young bean, for there was a general frustration amongst those around him, as well as a solid couple of blocks of Villa players in front of him, and I got the impression that he was wondering if this were really such a smart career move.

He certainly tried his heart out – perhaps a little too hard at times – and at other times appeared a little off-pace and puffed of cheek. The second coming of Dembele he did not appear to be, for there were few signs of him picking up the ball and breezing past opponents.

Mercifully, his goal provided a pretty handy adrenaline shot. (Am I right in thinking that Dembele also scored on his home debut?) A well-taken strike it was too, for I can speak with some authority when I suggest that it is pretty easy when lining up those shots, with the ball rolling back towards you, to lean back and bloot them into orbit.

Thereafter, confidence coursed through his veins like nobody’s business, and a whole tranche of pretty unnecessary tricks and flicks were unleashed. The chap started to do his best Moussa Sissoko impression, surging forward with the ball, and the wonderful prospect of an unstoppable Ndombele-Sissoko double-act hove briefly into view.

6. Eriksen On Song

The Great Eriksen Debate has proved pretty divisive stuff, and there was no letting up yesterday.

No real doubt about it, the chap’s introduction made a difference yesterday. Where previously there had been a heck of a lot of scratching of heads and shrugging of shoulders and passing of buck, once Eriksen had toddled on everyone basically just gave him the ball and left him to it.

And his outputs were pretty impressive. He picked a handful of clever passes, cunningly threading them in between defenders and into space for chums to run onto, rather than simply to feet, which had proved largely beyond his teammates for the preceding hour.

It was in general a pretty good advert for the young fish’s wares, and goodness knows his agent must have rubbed his hands in glee.

As one of those who has often chided the man, I’m happy to hold up my hands and applaud him for his efforts yesterday. And if he shows that same eagerness to demand the ball and look to create opportunities on a weekly basis I’ll probably plant myself far more firmly in the Pro Eriksen camp.

However, if you pardon my tuppence worth, I remain a tad wary, as I feel like I have seen plenty of games like yesterday’s in which we have needed inspiration but Eriksen has sat back and let proceedings pass him by. Yesterday, for the 15 or minutes in which he played, everything went through him, and this should be the case more regularly, rather than having 89 quiet minutes and one moment of magic. I would prefer we keep him than sell him, but would like to see yesterday’s performance become his norm. Admittedly I would also like us to win the league and revert back to blue socks, but such things occasionally need to be said.

AANP’s book Spurs’ Cult Heroes is available on Amazon. There’s a follow-up in the offing too, as it happens.

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Spurs 2-0 Villa: Five Lilywhite Observations

From the sublime of the markedly, almost scarily professional dismantling of Chelsea, to the pointedly less sublime of an FA Cup 3rd round win against lower league gubbins. This looked every inch the performance of reserves that was advertised in the trailer.

1. First Half Snoozing

The first half was marvellously soporific stuff, as players, fans and the viewing public alike settled in for a gentle Sunday afternoon nap. Naturally enough our first-reserves could not be faulted for effort, but for all their busy scurrying the product tended generally to be little more than a pass to the left, followed by a pass to the right. Even Mike Dean seemed rather uninterested by events on the greenery.

The most notable element of that snoozy opening 45 was the sight on the Villa bench of one Stephen Clemence, a man who once had the pleasure of sharing a nightclub urinal with AANP back in the 90s heyday. It was that sort of half really.

There was a dreadful lack of that neat trickery just outside the penalty area that Messrs Eriksen and Alli have turned into such a dreamy artform. The quick shifting of the orb, and busy off-the-ball buzz, was woefully absent. That Villa fielded literally a back-six did not really help matters, but that was almost the point of the thing, for they were hardly about to rock up to the gates, wave a white flag and politely request to be butchered.

2. Cissoko

Amongst those given a rare chance to flaunt his wares was Cissoko. One moment in the first half rather captured the chap in a microcosm, as he picked up the ball just inside his own half, surged past two or three opponents like some sort of warrior buffalo, then trod on the ball whilst running at full pelt, squirting it onto an opponent whereby it flew straight back off his shin and catapulted fifty yards forward into touch. Not something you or I could have done if we had practised for weeks.

Credit where due however, and the chappie’s day improved a notch or several in the second half. He will probably never be the subtlest bean on the counter, but that head-down/chest-out/limbs-everywhere/charge-right-through-you approach reaped a dividend or two as the game wore on. On a couple of occasions he managed to burst right through the Villa defence like a fist through a paper bag, and while he fluffed his lines after fashioning for himself a one-on-one, he did nifty job of setting up Son for our second.

3. Janssen. Sigh.

It was case of the old plus ca change and whatnot for poor old Janssen. Everything we have seen before, from the plodding attempts to outpace his man, to the well-weighted lay-offs, the look of a man who won’t score if he plays for another thousand years, right through to the early withdrawal. Nothing a seasoned watcher would not have predicted. Poor egg.

4. Alli and a Change in Fortune

Insult duly toddled along and positioned himself next to injury, as Janssen’s replacement, Dele Alli, promptly brought with him a change of tempo and fortunes. Alli offered oodles more movement and creativity on the ball, and the win pretty much took care of itself.

5. Other Semi-Bright Spots

On an underwhelming afternoon, there were a few half-decent performances. N’Koudou as ever looked like a lively sort of pup when he was flung on; young Winks gave another mature and feisty performance; Carter-Vickers at the back did little wrong, albeit without enduring the most testing afternoon.

Frankly, the point of the exercise was probably three-pronged: avoid a replay; avoid injuries/suspensions; win the dashed thing. As such, and with a welcome break for the regulars, this can go down as that most curious of beasts – an eminently forgettable, unqualified success.

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Villa 1-2 Spurs: Post Mortem on Kaboul & Capoue

The eagle-eyed amongst you might have noted that the best part of 48 hours have elapsed since the curtain came down on events Villa Park, but for that long have I been ruminating on the various ills within our mob, and particularly the rearguard.

Attack

Up in attack, while things can hardly be said to be beetling along in a state of serene success, the general gist of things is just about in credit rather than debit. Chances are at least being made.

Every now and then Chap A finds Chap B, Chap C spins around the back, Chap B slides in Chap C, who neatly pings it back to Chap A, and you sit back and wonder why we lose so many of these dashed games. Admittedly one of the chaps will then hit the ‘keeper rather than the net, but at least we have the beginnings of the right idea.

Defence

At the back however, any good being done by the forwards is being heartily undone, with generous lashings of interest, by a back-four fast becoming a parody of themselves. Kaboul’s head appears to swim like a man trying to make sense of the previous paragraph. It’s all very well looking incredibly mean, imposing and just about The Ultimate Bad-Ass at every break in play, but once the nitty-gritty begins he seems to have taken to closing his eyes, swiping a limb in the loose direction of things and hoping for the best. I fancy it might be time to take the batteries out of the old bean and leave him to collect some dust on a shelf somewhere.

With Kaboul running the show it is little wonder that our back-four as a unit has all the resistance and backbone of a particularly gloomy sandcastle. Sure enough, a Villa side that had not managed a goal since around 1997 were soon rattling shots at us from all angles, and within 15 minutes had their lead.

A Short Grammar Lesson

Referees are disinterested.

Vertonghen, Adebayor and the various other assorted prima donnas, with bags of quality but little passion for the club, are uninterested.

Capoue Watch

You know how it is when you suddenly realise that the chap sitting next to you in the office has an annoying habit of clicking his fingers three times every time his computer-box receives a telegram? Once you are aware of it you cannot stop noticing it, and before you know it you can think of nothing else, until it gets to the point that you either want to thrash his head or your own head against something solid and flat. Well thus do I feel about Capoue.

What does the blighter do? It was something I asked myself a few weeks ago, more as a matter of procedure than due to any particular vendetta, you understand, but several weeks on the question still lingers in the air, and with a nasty whiff to it. So on Sunday I watched him like a leopard, and once again his anonymity was thunderously conspicuous.

In his defence he does occasionally show faint signs of life – a crossfield pass here, a Capital One Cup slalom forward there – but on Sunday it generally seemed that he was content to jog around the place in Ryan Mason’s slipstream, always maintaining a careful 10-yard distance from the ball. When Benteke hammered against the post early on, Capoue could be seen jogging along, in the vicinity but not in the action. When Villa scored their goal, Capoue could be seen jogging along, in the vicinity, but nowhere near the chap who flew in to score. And so on.

Positives

Young Mason continues to charge around with the enthusiasm of a slippery, young whelp, and although his radar went awry in the final 15 his was another fairly encouraging performance. Much has been said of Master Kane, and although the hyperbole has got so far ahead of itself that it has begun to trip on its feet (a piece in the Standard yesterday seemed to be comparing him to Bale) the chap seems to make the right noises. And as mentioned at the top of the programme, when our forwards do click, it really does make the pulse race somewhat.

Red Cards and Whatnot

So going forward we were moderate, at the back we were various shades of awful. Although we created some presentable chances at various points, we hardly looked like controlling the thing until the red card. On which note – Messrs Mason and Vertonghen can consider themselves fairly lucky. As with penalties conceded in recent weeks, rather than moan about harsh decisions the players could simply avoid doing the daft things that give the refs a decision to make.

All told it was no doubt a blessed relief for our glorious leader. The poor old fruit must gaze a little wistfully back at Southampton, where lions lie with lambs and happy rainbows spring up left, right and centre. With each game I see I increasingly feel that we must simply muddle through this season as best we can, then let Pochettino do what he wants with the squad and gauge him properly on 2015/16.

Shameless Plug Alert – AANP’s own book, Spurs’ Cult Heroes, continues to retail at Amazon and Waterstones, hint hint.

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Spurs 3-0 Villa: Final Thoughts on a Forgettable Season

Where was this lickety-split brand of football when we needed it earlier in the season? Throughout the first half, and even at 0-0, the one-touch interplay was slicker than a young bounder rolling into the office in braces and a shiny pair of cufflinks. Admittedly it was against a Villa side that looked suspiciously like it had been plucked from their mob of (rather mischievously entertaining) supporters, but nevertheless. Rollicking stuff. If ever there were an award for The Best 45 Minutes of Football At The Most Pointless Juncture of the Season, our heroes would be amongst the red-hot nominees.

Credit to Tactics Tim, in his valedictory charge, for spying that the opposition were but fan-based doppelgangers and accordingly going with two upfront plus a midfielder instructed to bomb forward and beyond. With Sandro holding fort, and Eriksen and Sig surreptitiously drifting infield towards that fun-filled centre, we had options a-plenty, leaving the various competition-winners entrusted with the Villa shirt for one day with little to do but step aside obligingly and let their ‘keeper face things single-handedly. And then as a particularly cruel additional prank they took a pop at him themselves, for our second. With friends like that, eh?

So tip-top was the build-up play in that first half that even our mishap-riddled full-back pair looked worthy of the epithet “Actual Professional Footballer”, Messrs Rose and Naughton taking time out from their season’s worth of misplaced passes to ping in a couple of wicked crosses and diagonals. Moreover, having spent all season resolutely knocking the ball sideways or backwards, Paulinho suddenly discovered the joys of actually progressing forward, in a manner vaguely akin to a blind man having the veil removed from his eyes, albeit with marginally less emotional impact. The opening goal was marvellously crafted, with the applause at AANP Towers ringing loudest for the cheeky, dinked lay-off provided by sideways merchant himself in the build-up. More was to come from Paulinho moments later, including a slide-rule pass for someone or other to blaze wide, proof indeed that after a full season the lad has finally begun watching and learning from Master Eriksen.

Naturally things tailed off in the second half, a gentlemen’s agreement having been brokered at the interval guaranteeing that all 22 of them they could all gently doze off – and that was that. The season that could not end soon enough has ended, the Sherwood era has (presumably) ground to an angry halt and the glorious Europa journey will be ours once more. Huzzah! If anything I rather suspect that the coming weeks will be a dashed sight more interesting around N17 than those just gone. Eyes peeled, as end of season awards will imminently this way come.

Shameless Plug Alert – Lest ye be feeling bereft of inane witterings and lilywhite marvels already, by all means browse the nearest bookstore for AANP’s own book, Spurs’ Cult Heroes, which continues to decorate coffee tables and prop open doors the across the country.

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Villa 0-2 Spurs: The Wonders of Off-The-Ball Movement & First-Time Passes

Ah, the first-time pass. Scourge of the ball-watching defender. Slicer of the well-drilled bank of four. And as conspicuously absent from our game-plan for the first half half or so as it was instrumental to operations thereafter.

The Opening Half-Hour: Ponderous

I spent most of those opening 30 minutes wanting to offer my kingdom for a first-time pass. Or some off-the-ball movement. Or any line of attack that was not based around Dawson, Chiriches and Vertonghen rolling square balls to each other (and occasionally back to Lloris to cede possession through the medium of a skyward punt). By goodness it was pedestrian stuff. And not necessarily the fault of the man in possession either, as the lilywhite cup could not have been accurately said to have overflowed with options. In fact, our heroes seemed content to adopt a Subbuteo routine of simply adopting a spot of turf and resolutely sticking to it for most of the first half, and with Villa content to soak up pressure and play for a counter-attack I found myself idly toying with nearby blunt objects with which to potentially bash in my own skull at the frustration of it all.

The goal itself may have been a tad fortuitous, but for a few minutes thereafter, and for most of the second half, life became decidedly more fun, as gaps opened up and we were able to get behind the Villa defence. AVB dashed well needs to refine re-examine that “Breaking the Deadlock” file, because having each man in turn ponderously take two/three/four touches before rolling the thing sideways neither strikes fear into bellies of the other lot, nor puts fire into bellies of our lot, nor has any humdinging effect on the bellies of anyone in the vicinity, which is really the whole point of the game.

The Bonny, Blithe and Gay Second Half

Marvellously however, as mentioned, things perked up after the goal, and moved on apace in the second half (bar the five-minute wobble when Benteke came on and seemed to bellow so loud that he made Daws and Chiriches curl into little balls and cry rather than try marking him). Glory be, our heroes began shifting the ball at pace, with first-time passes and movement and lots of little legs scurrying around, until the chances started to flow. The poor old full-back tasked with sitting on Townsend ran completely out of steam, allowing the young bounder to gallop to the line like it was going out of fashion, and to his credit he put his head down and sprinted for the line as often as he cut inside to let rip.

Amidst all this one ought not to forget to send a sizeable bouquet the way of young Sandro, who spent his afternoon harassing the dickens out of any Villa player who dared to think about starting an attack. Back in the days of yore, a youthful and rather wanton AANP would pass his summer mornings by catching ants and the like, and dropping them into spider webs, just to observe the manic reaction of the spider in galloping across and clambering all over the unfortunate young bean. And thus, like some human-sized two-legged spider, did Sandro snuffle the life out of Villa at every opportunity. Good to have the lad back.

And on to the latest installation of The Great Soldado Debate. The lad certainly knows what to do once inside the area, his goal today taken with aplomb – indeed several plombs. (And bonus points all round for the one-touchery that got him there in the first place.) But beyond that marvellous finish? Admittedly in the second half he put in some yards, making himself available down the right flank and holding up the ball (although it did not seem to occur to any of his chums to fill in the attacking void thereby created and bust a gut to get themselves into the area), but in the first half in particular one struggles to make the case for him having offered a plethora of options, and the Villa centre-backs seemed contented enough. ‘Room for improvement’ is probably the euphemism of choice.

Despite the slightly negative tone of these witterings it is a most contented AANP readying the nib for a spot of shut-eye tonight. All the necessary boxes have been duly ticked, and importantly so given the horrors of last time around. Concerns there be for sure, around that lack of incision as long as affairs remain goalless, but Rome was not built in a day, what?

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Villa – Spurs Preview: Chewing Over The Soldado-Defoe Problem

As ever following an international break it feels like the best part of a lifetime since we last convened around these parts, and given the sour – if entirely ludicrous – manner in which we parted, it seems fairly reasonable to speculate that our esteemed leader has spent the intervening eternity knee-deep in cogitation of the highest order. While there was no doubt a generous sprinkling of bad luck about the way we fell behind to West Ham having pummelled them for the best part of an hour, AVB might nevertheless be well advised to solve a couple of the riddles posed therein, and with unfettered alacrity.

Soldado? Defoe? Both? Neither?

It is not exactly a secret of the highest confidentiality that Tottenham Hotspur Version 2013/14 is being set up with the ultimate aim of feeding the boy Soldado. Evidently the various cogs do not yet quite mesh with the seamless efficiency one would want, but once things do fall into place the team will be geared towards him and one imagines he will score goals by the bucketload. Alas, at times it seems the supporting cast have yet to stumble upon the formula that transforms Soldado from the lonely-looking lighthouse he currently resembles to the unstoppable goal machine he threatens to be. The poor blighter has the misfortune to be neither a hulking man-beast of the ilk of Drogba nor the sort to drop deep and go foraging when the going gets tough, a la Rooney, so until the whole team sings from the same hymnsheet – the hymnsheet entitled ‘Let’s All Club Together To Create Dozens Of Chances For Soldado’ – he will presumably continue to lollop along a little forlornly.

Given Soldado’s travails, and the form of Defoe in the minor cups, the rationale behind Defoe’s selection against West Ham was understandable – but fairly ineffective. A different sort of beast, Defoe is likelier to collect the ball fairly deep, run at a defence and shot from range, and although against deep-lying opponents at the Lane this is of limited value, there may be more success away from home and on the counter. I do not particularly subscribe to the view that Defoe only scores against weaker teams (par example, his finish against Man City last season was top-notch, and against a mean old defence) and would be happy enough to see him given a run of games. Frankly however he currently resides in a box clearly marked ‘Impact Sub’, and here he will stay. I do, in my idle moments, wonder whether AVB might be tempted to deploy him today, given his success against Villa in the Carling Cup (or whatever it is now called) a few weeks back, but having fired blanks against West Ham one suspects his chance has passed for now.

Another option might be pairing the two of them. There could hardly be a less likely scenario today – given that we are away from home, the team is absolutely not set up for a front-two and it has not been done before, bar the final fifteen minutes against West Ham – so I get the feeling that should the suggestion be made in the corridors of power at the Lane a couple of burly security chaps would frogmarch me off the premises before I could finish blurting out the suggestion, but if nothing else these two are unlikely to get in each other’s way, and if Jay-Z and Kanye have taught me anything it is that one never really know what harmonious – if sample-heavy and profanity-riddled – delights can be produced by two like-minded blighters until they bally well throw caution to the wind and link arms.

Ultimately however, Soldado will probably remain the focal point of things and we will all simply have to remain patient and wait for things to click. Which is fortunate, as we Tottenham folk are particularly renowned for our lashings of patience, what?

Lessons From England

Another mini-rant, while I have the floor – ‘twas interesting to note how England eventually turned dominance into a lead, and then maintained that momentum, even going so far as to score again, particularly against Montenegro. This has hardly been a speciality of our heroes, but given that we typically rack up around 20 shots on goal we dashed well ought to win games by more than the odd goal or two. The national side gave a glimpse of how to keep feet on the accelerator even after eventually taking a lead, and our lot would do well to emulate the approach. As, indeed, they did at Villa Park a few weeks back. (Given the successes of various rivals yesterday, the imperative is even greater.)

Personnel

That our second string could trounce Villa in the Cup, on their own patch, just last month or so bodes fairly well, but this being a new day an entirely different kettle of fish may well await. AVB has sought to integrate the new faces at a gentle pace, sensibly enough, but after the huff and puff of our last outing he may be tempted to let young Lamela off his leash, while Aaron Lennon is apparently now fit again. Young Master Townsend’s international exploits have been well documented, and it struck me that he was ever-so-slightly more prone to pass than shoot while in England colours, which might not be the worst trait to transfer to N17. There have also been murmurs amongst Spurs-supporting chums of mine to give Holtby an opportunity in the hole, particularly if Eriksen is again starved of space. Here at AANP Towers the greater concern is that Dawson may again be given the run-around – Kaboul’s return to full fitness cannot come soon enough. However, when all is said and done, this still ought to be another three points for the collection.

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Villa 0-4 Spurs: Blessed Relief, Following the World Record First Half

I suspect few other teams could labour quite so much en route to a 4-0 win as our lot did in what will go down in history as The First Half of A Thousand Corners, but by the end it was a certified cakewalk, and for eventually carpeing the diem with such aplomb our heroes deserve all sorts of credit and an extra yuletide tipple.

Men Against Boys

Last time I checked Villa had plenty chaps old enough to know how to handle a razor – the likes of Dunne and Melberg (admittedly the latter was not one with too great a penchant for the razor – and jolly impressive he looked for it too) but it seems the current Villa policy is to raid the nearest primary school nativity play cast-list and hope for the best. Consequently some sort of world record was set, as for the first 43 minutes the ball did not cross halfway, only three Villa players actually touched the ball and at one point Lloris leaned up against a goal post and fell asleep. A tough lesson for the assorted eight year-olds in claret and blue, yet they survived to half-time unscathed. Indeed, the first half was one we have viewed aghast a thousand times at the Lane, as unscrupulous visitors arrange an eight-man defence and open their Alamo Do-It-Yourself handbook.

Handily enough, the much-needed Christmas miracle turned out to be Villa hoisting themselves by their own petard, their gamble of actually trying to come out and attack in the second half neatly backfiring as they consequently sacrificed the eight-man defence that had done such a sterling job in the opening 45.

No doubt about it, life become a jolly sight easier once Villa left gaps at the back and our heroes duly cut them to ribbons, with Bale rather conspicuously abandoning his flank and bludgeoning his way straight down the centre.

Subtlety in the Centre (or Lack Thereof)

Back to that first half though, if I may, and the lack of lock-picking ingenuity down the centre. I certainly would not utter a word of dissent to the faces of either Sandro or Dembele, for the pair of them are like genetically-engineered man-beasts, ripped into shape thorugh the regimented approach undertaken by Dolph Lundgren in Rocky IV. Which is all well and good for snapping back the neck of an Italian stallion with a single punch under the imposing gaze of Brigitte Nielsen, but perhaps lacking the requisite subtlety for the dissection of an eight-man defence. Instead, naturally enough, the first half drill was to set Bale off on a left-wing gallop. ‘Tis a problem that has bedevilled us for several years now, and I’ll be darned if I see a solution in the offing.

Pardon the digression. The second half, by contrast, was oodles of fun, as the schoolboys abandoned the very notion of ‘formation’ and instead ran around in little circles and bumped into each other, while our heroes fizzed neat little one-twos forward and backward until we were four up and away over the hills. Particular credit is due to young Master Naughton for an absolute dream of a first-time weighted pass into Defoe for the opener (who knew the boy had that in him?). Elsewhere on the pitch Monsieur Lloris enjoyed one of the more straightforward clean sheets of his career, Vertonghen gave a glimpse of what a beautiful future might look like when he steps forward to intercept from centre-back, and somebody somewhere deserves a rasping thump on the back in recognition of the masterstroke that was kitting out our heroes in navy blue shorts.

Fours points represents an adequate haul so far for the yuletide foursome, and fourth place satisfactory at the halfway stage of the season. Downhill all the way now.